High-speed broadband is a critical part of today’s modern economy, no matter where you live. Whether it’s a patient seeking telehealth services, a student accessing online resources for homework, a farmer who wants to use analytics software to improve their operation, or a small business that simply wants to share its product with the world, Americans are increasingly reliant on internet connectivity for daily activities.
Unfortunately, many Americans still do not have reliable access to the internet, including in my district and my home state of Georgia. To close the digital divide and further America’s leadership in next-generation broadband and wireless networks, we need effective reforms to accelerate the build out of high-speed connections, boost U.S. competitiveness, and ensure our farmers have the 21st century tools necessary to increase production.
As a proud Member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, I am in a unique position to play a pivotal role in crafting legislation that lifts regulatory barriers and cuts through the bureaucratic red tape that has worsened the digital divide millions of Americans currently face—and we’ve hit the ground running in the 118th Congress.
The Energy and Commerce Committee continues to go through regular order to improve our nation’s broadband access. In April, the House passed H.R. 1339, the Precision Agriculture Satellite Connectivity Act, bipartisan legislation introduced by my friend and colleague, Rep. Bob Latta (OH-05). Agriculture is Georgia’s number one industry, and to meet growing demand, farm families must have access to high-speed internet and innovative technologies on the farm to produce higher yields.
H.R. 1339 would require the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to review its current satellite rules to determine if changes can be made to promote precision agriculture. The FCC has many different interests competing for their attention—this bill will mandate them to prioritize our agriculture industry, which will help our farmers get needed regulatory changes faster. As a proud cosponsor of the bill, I am hopeful H.R. 1339 will be signed into law this Congress so our farmers can incorporate new precision agriculture technology and ensure food security, which is national security.
Additionally, the Energy and Commerce Committee is continuing to hold hearings on streamlining permitting to expedite broadband deployment. Among other notable issues, these hearings have shined a light on the shortcomings of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. The bill lacked necessary reforms to address the permitting and processing delays that are hampering broadband deployment in our rural communities. Unfortunately, this is business as usual in Washington—simply throwing more money at a problem without enacting needed program improvements, leading to wasted taxpayer dollars.
Lastly, one of my top priorities in Congress is to reduce waste, fraud, and abuse by ensuring the Federal Broadband Map is accurate so our federal dollars are prioritized for communities that are truly underserved. I consistently hear from local stakeholders that the FCC’s mapping, from which the distribution of federal grant and loan dollars is based, is inadequate and incorrect. The process is improving, including by taking data from States into account. Georgia is the gold standard when it comes to accurate broadband mapping, and Georgia invested many state resources to recognizing exactly where broadband is needed across the state. We should be utilizing proven data to ensure our taxpayer dollars are not wasted when U.S. competitiveness and enterprise are on the line.
Republicans and Democrats agree that access to reliable broadband is a necessity for all Americans. Checkerboard connectivity is not acceptable in the modern economy, and I will continue to work diligently in Congress to close the digital divide so every American has the opportunity to succeed in the 21st century.
U.S. Representative Rick W. Allen, Georgia Republican, represents the 12th Congressional District and serves on the House Energy and Commerce Committee and the House Education and the Workforce Committee. Prior to his election to Congress, he built his own successful business from the ground up.